Passion vs Commitment


We often hear of people being passionate about something.  Not unoften, we also hear of people being committed to something. Is it better to be passionate about something or committed to something?

Passion is synonymous with fervour – a feverish excitement.  Commitment implies an emotion more sedate and steady; it is synonymous with dedication and a sense of responsibility. Passion connotes restlessness; commitment, dependability. Passion is a heightened feeling that seeks an outlet in activity external to the self. Commitment is a quiet force that impels the individual from within. Passion seeks fulfilment, whereas commitment is its own reward. One can be the architect and agent of one’s own happiness in the latter case, whereas in the former, satisfaction is contingent on  external factors.

Interestingly, despite their differences, it seems that commitment could metamorphose into passion, or one could be passionately committed to something. On the other hand, commitment to one cause can come in the way of passion for another vocation and passion for one thing can disrupt one’s commitment to something else.


Time, and Time Out

Time: It is The great equaliser.  It ticks away relentlessly at the same pace for every creature. Some compartmentalise time into neat packets and fit their work into these packets.  They are the ants of Aesop.  When the rain comes, their store ensures they don’t go hungry unlike the grasshopper that was singing through the summer and hence had to starve through the rain.

But then, there are the ants and grasshoppers of Maugham. The ants work assiduously, no lesser than the ant made famous by Aesop. But the grasshopper has been adopted as a pet. It can afford to sing or dance, summer or winter, autumn or rain as it gets everything on a platter. (Read Somerset Maugham’s Ant and the Grasshopper).

Now, where does that leave us ant-like creatures who are caught between not wanting to starve, and not wanting to strive, but not wanting to eat off a platter either?

Of ‘causes’ and existential dilemmas

I had an interesting meeting yesterday with a group that wants to do good to the less privileged. After laying out the big picture, they wisely decided it wouldn’t do any good to anyone to dissipate their energies in trying to do too many things as they’ve just started off the block, and are just gathering steam. So the discussion zeroed in to determine what the immediate priorities are or should be. Magically as it were, concerns like ‘communication’ and ‘outreach’ that began the discussion, ended up transformed as ‘branding’ and ‘funding’ by the time the meeting wound up.

To an outsider like me it seemed that the group has moved from considering how to promote its cause to how to promote itself. It is a pattern that I have come to expect:

  • A niche is identified, where a service is required.
  • A team, whether government, quasi-government, non-government civil society, or whatever in character, is formed
  • The ‘audience,’ always less advantaged or more deprived in some way, is ‘targeted.’
  • The team steps in to help them over the hump as it were.
  • The targeted people respond with various degrees of hope, boredom, disinterest, disbelief, fatigue.
  • The mish-mash team of committed members, enthusiastic volunteers, salaried workers, taciturn observers and vested interests strives to cause a ripple in the community they are determined to serve.
  • Energies are dissipated in trying to convert the ripple into a wave, or in some abysmal cases initiate or engineer the ripple.
  • Resources – human and material – that could have been used directly in helping the cause are dissipated in chasing a chimera.

The argument always is: Awareness has to be created. Really! About what? And at whose cost?

The good, bad and evil: Can Batman tell us why James Holmes did what he did?

The good is good and the bad is bad and there is a great grey area in-between. Right? Not really, it seems. There are different kinds of good and different kinds of bad, and this is what the Batman trilogy is all about, says Prof. Shreekant Sambrani in an insightful analysis of the story’s undercurrents.*

Here I dumb down the article to lists, with due apologies to Prof. Sambrani, because my purpose is to see if James Holmes transformed from good to bad in an attempt to understand the provocations that might have led him to perpetrate a tragedy of such mammoth proportions.

List A: Kinds of Good:

  1. Good that is racked by self-doubt
  2. Good that succumbs to evil
  3. Good that accepts evil due to considerations such as loyalty and affection
  4. Good that lacks sufficient courage to stand up to evil
  5. Good with inadequate scruples
  6. Good that is overshadowed by flawed judement.

[In my opionion, these are categories that can overlap, as are the categories of bad below]

Lst B: Kinds of Bad

  1. Pure evil [though there is no corresponding category of unadulterated good]
  2. The good that transforms into evil
  3. Cunning evil
  4. Refined evil, most seductive
  5. Raw, unbridled evil

Based on what we have got to know so far about twenty-four year old James Holmes, whose only run-in with the law happened to be a minor traffic offence, he seems to fall under the category ‘good that transforms into evil’ of List B.  Assuming this hypothesis is valid, the question then should be: What caused the change? He may fit many, though not all, of the categories in List A.

Was he racked by self doubt? Did he succumb to evil? Was his judgement flawed due to some reason as yet unascertained?

To my mind these are questions that matter. I consider James Holmes as representative of a generation that is slowly losing its moorings in the Real. If his actions resulted from something other than pure evil, – which can be discounted in this case as he has a history that shows him to be the opposite – it is time to shelve our shared grief at the loss of innocent lives and the body-blow to simple pleasures that can no longer be taken for granted and ask what caused James Holmes to change from good to evil. In finding the answer or answers to this question could lie a better life for our young.

*[See full article: The moral tales of Batman.

Is there something to learn from a Chief’s letter to his Army?

“In 1986, when General K Sundarji took over as the Indian Army Chief, one of the first things he did was to send a note to all his officers. The letter created quite a stir in the Indian Army at the time, candidly identifying prevalent ills and offering solutions.”

Many of the problems identified by the General are universal, and his suggestions are as relevant for ordinary individuals and professionals  as for the Indian army. Excerpts from the ‘Chief’s Letter’ [From: Triumph of the will | Indian Army | Indian Army officer | The New Indian Express]:

‘Field Marshal Cariappa used to say, “Good officers – good Army; bad officers – bad Army”. We should, therefore look at ourselves first and be not only frank but hypercritical…  Many of us have not professionally kept ourselves up-to-date, doctrinally or technologically; we have felt that we have “got it made”, and rested on our oars; we do not read enough; we do not think enough, …

‘In the practise of our profession, we have not insisted on standards being maintained and turn our eyes away from irregularities (living in a glass house?); we have not been tolerant of dissent during discussion and encourage sycophancy (a result of our having “switched off” professionally?) we have not been accepting any mistakes (due to hankering after personal advancement?), …

‘Finally, some have perhaps unthinkingly developed a yen for 5-star culture and ostentation which flows from new-rich values in our society, where money is the prime indicator of success and social position. This adoption of mercenary values in an organisation like the Army which depends for its élan on values like honour, duty and country above self, is disastrous for its élan and for the self-esteem of the individual in it…

‘All of us talk about “Officer-Like Qualities” and about being officers and gentlemen. I am not sure whether to many of us these terms means the same thing… of putting the interests of the county, the Army, the unit and one’s subordinates before one’s own; of doggedness in defeat; of magnanimity in victory; of sympathy for the underdog; of a certain standard of behaviour and personal conduct in all circumstances; of behaving correctly towards one’s seniors, juniors and equals…’

For Earth Day: The simple lives people still live*

*From my forthcoming novel, ‘Inadequate Identities’

I hadn’t realized, till today, how much I’ve come to enjoy the mornings with Kamala. I watch her from my perch under the neem tree in her central courtyard. She chatters non-stop like the gregarious mynas and the belligerent little sparrows. Prancing to and fro like a deer, she hangs out the clothes to dry…clothes washed in soap-nut extract; clothes that will never lose their sheen. I look at my faded jeans: acid-washed, dyed in carcinogens, metonym of a world gone wrong …

I see the shadow of her breast on my pant: she’s stretching to pluck some neem leaves and jasmine flowers.  Bending waist down like a succulent plant, she swiftly mops the living spaces and leaves them fragrant as herself: smells of herbs and flowers that tease my nostrils and stirs me deep down every time she wafts by.

The smell of home-made coconut oil fills the kitchen and floats out into the courtyard, now stirring other more pressing desires – presently indulged. Sitting cross legged, opposite each other, in the manner of a married couple’s easy comfort, Kamala and I eat food that’s freshly cooked, not simply poured out from a packet:  greens and veggies, home-grown with manure from kitchen waste and animal droppings.

Brunch over, she tucks up her sari and sits on her haunches by the well, with the warm ash from the cook stove scraped off into a coconut shell and a handful of coconut fibre to scour the vessels. I draw up water from the well and pour it out slowly; the vessels begin to gleam like new. For a while there’s silence. The squirrels are busy nibbling the leftovers and Kamala doesn’t talk when doing the dishes; the ash gets into her mouth, she says.  I watch her puckered face and tightly closed lips, and fall in love with her womanliness all over again.

A bulb in their homes, at last!

Food for thought: India shining?

The residents of this village had to walk a kilometre one way if they wanted to watch television. The children had to study by the light of kerosene lamps and the people had to resign themselves to darkness if they ran out of oil to light their homes. Devarakolly, a village in south India, is just 16 km from a major town, Madikeri. But it had to wait a hundred and ten years since power was first generated in the state to get electricity! Even now, only eighty-five of the ninety-five houses in the village have been electrified. The rest have to wait some more to switch on a bulb in their homes!

On suicides:

Shubha Varadaraj Hatwar, a 27-year old woman, hanged herself from the ceiling of her room some days ago. This was discovered only yesterday. Shubha worked as an executive engineer in a software firm. She has left a note which does not state any reason for her taking recourse to suicide, though it states that she alone is responsible for the act. She has also provided details of her bank account in the note and requested her parents to settle her dues.

Lalitha, also 27, wife of a businessman, also committed suicide by hanging. She was found dead by her husband. The reason is alleged to be marital discord.